Innovation – Good practices for a sustained improvement

August 2, 2010 at 2:34 pm | Posted in Blogroll, Practice Excellence, Systems Improvement, Systems Thinking | Leave a comment

Concepts are useful, but beyond a certain point it is important to translate them into practical actions so that we can benefit from them. One such concept is innovation. We can spend days and pages to debate on what exactly it means. But it may be useful to start with a simple understanding of what it means to us and get on with details of how to bring it about. Based on what we learn on the way, we can always tweak the definition.

After going through various definitions, the one that makes most sense to me is “Innovation is doing anything new or anything existing in a new way so that it helps the system to be healthy”. We can say that any system is healthy when,

  • There is a fine balance between continuity and change
  • Those involved in the system feel the energy and creative tension, at the same time feeling good about being part of it
  • Those dealing with the system feel that the system is fair to them and want to continue to associate with it
  • The system in turn helps other systems it is dealing with to be healthy
  • When challenged by the environment, the system may need some time to adjust but soon reaches a new state of equilibrium

We need good practices for a system to become and remain healthy. We commonly talk of best practices, but I prefer the term “good practices” because there can be multiple good practices to choose from in a given context and it provides flexibility to evolve new good practices. I like the tentativeness of “good” practices over the arrogance of “best” practices.

How do we arrive at the good practices? I feel we can start from some generic aspects.

  • Everything that we do, in any domain or walk of life, tends to go through a three step process, plan -> execute -> review. We normally have well established good practices for these steps. However, we can compliment them with another three step process, prepare -> observe -> introspect. While we plan for the predictable, we could also prepare for the eventuality if something were to go wrong. Similarly, rather than just mechanically and blindly executing the plan, we can observe how the system is responding. After execution, we normally review to see whether we achieved what we had planned to achieve. This is important but rather than limiting it to just review, it would also help to introspect how we could have done better. Therefore around each set of tasks of a similar nature, we can build good practices for prepare -> observe -> introspect cycle which goes hand in hand with the plan -> execute -> review cycle.
  • Another generic aspect applicable to any domain is interaction between expectations and commitments. In any interaction between a provider and consumer, if the expectations of the consumer are not correctly understood by the provider, it can lead to lot of wasted efforts as well as avoidable dissatisfaction. If the provider does not give enough thought before making a commitment and / or is not serious about keeping the commitment once made, it leads to lot of negativity in the system which in turn affects the system health. here again, building and using good practices for effective management of expectations and commitments would greatly help to make the system healthy.

There are other such generic aspects, which we can look at in the future posts. However, even if we can identify good practices for the above two aspects and examine what we currently do, it can lead us to think what we need to do differently and specific actions to be taken in a given context.

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